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October 18, 2018

A look ahead to the Eagles' 2019 salary cap

Eagles NFL
101818HowieRoseman Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Howie Roseman and Co. face a tough challenge on trying to keep their talented players, while also keeping costs down.

The Philadelphia Eagles are presently projected to be $15 million over the salary cap in 2019, according to OverTheCap.com, which on the surface appears that they are facing a potential cap crisis next offseason.

Is it as bad as it seems? The short answer is no. The Eagles will easily be able to free up a lot of money to get back under the cap, while also having the ability to free up additional money. However, by freeing up that extra money, the Eagles are also going to have to replace a lot of contributing players.

And so, I thought we'd just take a basic overview of where the Eagles stand, money-wise, in 2019.

What players would bring the most savings if they were released by the Eagles?

The following is something of a menu of players who are potential cap casualties next offseason. Some of them are good at football.

Player Savings 
 Nick Foles$18,800,000 
 Jason Peters$8,000,000 
 Timmy Jernigan$7,000,000 
 Michael Bennett$7,000,000 
 Chris Long$5,300,000 
 Rodney McLeod$5,093,000 
 Stefen Wisniewski$3,000,000 
 Chris Maragos$2,000,000 
 TOTAL$56,193,000 


First, the obvious:

• If the Eagles opted not to pick up Nick Foles' option in 2019, or if they traded him, that would get them back under the cap immediately. That decision will seemingly be a no-brainer, particularly if the team views Nate Sudfeld as a legitimate No. 2 quarterback behind Carson Wentz. I believe they already do, and will even more so by 2019. Foles leaving would net almost $19 million in savings.

• It's beginning to feel very likely that this is Jason Peters' last year in the NFL. He won't be easily replaced. While the Eagles won a Super Bowl with Halapoulivaati Vaitai at LT, the dropoff from "good Peters" to Big V was steep. The Eagles still have Vaitai, of course, as well as a developing Jordan Mailata behind the scenes, but they'd still probably have to look at adding to the offensive tackle pipeline. Whatever the case, that's another $8 million. 

• After being benched in favor of Isaac Seumalo, I can't imagine the Eagles keeping an unhappy Stefen Wisniewski around in favor of a savings of $3,000,000.

• I fear that Chris Maragos' knee injury could be a career-ender, or at a minimum, it could affect his ability to remain one of the best special teamers in the game. We'll see. That would be another $2 million.

Moving on from those four players combined would save roughly $32 million, putting the Eagles about $17 million under OverTheCap's projected cap.

Next, the potential opportunity for pay cuts:

• If the Eagles were to simply release Timmy Jernigan, they would save $7,000,000. At a minimum, they're certainly not going to keep Jernigan at his $13,000,000 cap hit. If the team believes Jernigan recovers fully from his herniated disc surgery and they think he can contribute the way he did in the first half of the 2017 season, I'm sure they would be open to Jernigan staying with the team on a pay cut, but savings are forthcoming one way or the other. If they did move on, obviously as we've seen this season, they would have to replace him with a defensive tackle who is a threat both as a pass rusher and as a run stopper.

• At safety, Rodney McLeod also feels like a strong candidate for a pay cut, as his cap figure will be $9.9 million in 2019. If that can't get worked out, the Eagles could opt to release McLeod and save a little over $5 million. McLeod was not easily replaced after he went down in 2018, however, so the Eagles would almost certainly have to spend a valuable resource, whether that's money or a high draft pick, on another safety, even if they like Avonte Maddox. A re-worked deal would seemingly be best for all sides.

And then there's the two (or three) old defensive ends: 

• If the Eagles moved on from Michael Bennett (33 in November), that would be a savings of $7 million. If they moved on from Chris Long (33), or if Long retired, as he almost did this past offseason, that would be a savings of $5.3 million. With Brandon Graham (30) set to become a free agent during the 2019 offseason, the team simply can't lose all three players.

What current players are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this offseason?

The important ones are Brandon Graham, Ronald Darby, and Jordan Hicks, none of whom, in my view, will be easily replaced, and all of whom will have expensive price tags to retain. 

To a lesser degree, there's Jay Ajayi, who likely won't get much in the way of big offers around the league after tacking an ACL tear onto already suspect knees.

The rest of the Eagles' unrestricted free agents are all replaceable. 

And then there's the contract extension candidates (cough... Carson Wentz... cough)

The 2019 offseason will be the first opportunity for the Eagles work out a long-term deal with Carson Wentz, and unless the Eagles plan on finding a way to circumvent the salary cap like the Patriots have (probably) been doing with Tom Brady for a decade by paying him through his TB12 business, Wentz is going to make a boatload of money.

Presently, Aaron Rodgers has the highest average money per year, at $33,500,000. Matt Ryan is second, at $30,000,000. They both signed their deals in 2018. The Eagles would almost be lucky to sign Wentz at something in that ballpark, assuming he stays healthy and continues to play like a star quarterback. The first year in the Rodgers and Ryan deals were both in the $20 million range, and they increase from there. 

That said, on paper, there isn't much of a need for the Eagles to rush to back up the Brinks truck for Wentz. His 2019 cap number is currently just under $8.5 million, and then the Eagles would have the advantage of exercising Wentz's fifth year option for 2020 season. This past offseason, the Titans exercised 2015 No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota's fifth year option at the cost of just under $21 million for the 2019 season. Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in 2016, would likely have a fifth year option figure in 2020 that is somewhat higher than Mariota's 2019 figure, but still quite manageable. The Eagles would then also have the ability to franchise tag Wentz in 2021, if need be.

The other player to watch in terms of an early contract extension would be Nelson Agholor, who is scheduled to play on a fifth year option worth just under $9.4 million. The Eagles would surely prefer a more palatable number for him in 2019, which a contract extension would achieve.

Summary

Yes, the Eagles can easily get under the salary cap in 2019 by releasing players. Some of those losses won't hurt much. Some would. But they won't have much in the way of financial resources to attack the free agent market.

So they better draft well.


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